Yes, it's the day before your Nebraska Cornhuskers take on the Miami Hurricanes in a primetime tilt on ESPN2.
We know you're wondering what the folks around the Canes program think, and for that we went to our SBNation Miami community State of the U.
Cameron Underwood, who is the man who covers recruiting for SOTU, was kind enough to answer my questions. I also did a Q&A for SOTU as well. You should be able to find it on the site.
Thanks to Cameron for his help, and give him a follow on twitter for his thoughts on the game.
1. Well, after a loss to open the season vs. Louisville, it looks like the team has gotten a little better with victories against FIU and Arkansas State. What’s the overall feeling of everyone heading to Lincoln for a Saturday night tilt?
Overall, the feeling is optimism. Through 3 games, the defense has improved greatly from the performances of previous years. This is the main thing that we as Canes fans have been looking for. You can't compete when giving up the yardage and point totals we previously allowed. To see the improvement that we have is a very very good thing.
The offense, while good, is still finding their stride. We have plenty of talented players on that side of the ball, so the expectation is that performances such as the one we had last week against Arkansas State become the norm. And, one of our best players, WR Stacy Coley, hasn't even really impacted the season yet. So, things should get better on that front.
Overall, there are plenty of positives, and the feeling is cautious optimism, at least for me.
2. Brad Kaaya is the man under center. We saw him be a Freshman vs. the Cards, but how has he been the past 2 games? Also, if he struggles is there a chance we could see Jake Heaps being put in by James Coley?
The Louisville game was infuriating to me, because the playcalling was ATROCIOUS. The coaching staff didn't put Kaaya in a position to be successful, and it showed. After that game, Kaaya was decent, but not great against FAMU, throwing for 177 yards and 2 scores on 12/22 passing. There were moments where he made some great throws, but he hadn't really wowed us from start to finish.
"Wow" is definitely a word to describe his performance in the Arkansas State game. Kaaya threw for a Miami freshman record 342 yards and 4 TDs on 16 of 24 passing. That's more than Bernie Kosar, Ken Dorsey, Vinny Testaverde or any other Miami freshman QB you can name. The lone blemish was a late interception when the receiver ran an incorrect route. But, this game showed everything that we had hoped Kaaya could be. Deep passes, intermediate passes, short passes. You name it, he threw it, and threw it well. I say that to say that Kaaya looked GREAT last week.
As to the second part of the question, I am firmly of the belief that Kaaya is the guy this whole season, end of story.
After he was announced as starter, I wrote an article and the very first point was just that: Kaaya has to be the guy all year, no matter what. Good performances (Arkansas St.), Average performances (Lousiville), bad performances (yet to be seen), you have to stick with him to make starting a True Freshman a valid decision. This is a long term thing, not just for right now.
The more interesting thing, to me, than "should (backup QB) play if Kaaya struggles?", to which the answer will always be no in my brain, is "Who will be the backup QB?" Ryan Williams, who was slated to start before an ACL tear in spring practice, is fully cleared this week. And, if a player had to come into the game and replace Kaaya at QB, the discussion on whether that player should be Heaps or Williams is more intriguing to me.
But, again, regardless of the circumstance (short of injury), you don't replace Kaaya. Period.
3. This game is kind of being pitted as Ameer Abdullah vs. Duke Johnson. Johnson is the type of Running Back that has, recently, given Nebraska fits. What’s the best and worst about Duke that we will see Saturday?
The best: Vision. Shifty moves. Bigger physically than previous years. A stiff arm that routinely has defenders eating turf. Speed. Ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Amazing in the screen game. Elite return man (although he's not doing that anymore). And, in general, he's just a dynamic player who has the ability to score every time he touches the ball.
The worst: Not great in pass protection. History of injuries. Fumbled more than you'd like early in his career. Not a towering physical presence.
What you'll see Saturday: Duke will get 20-25 touches. It wouldn't surprise me to see him handle a return or 2, something he did often and with great success as a Freshman and Sophomore. The key for Nebraska's defense will be to rally around the ball and tackle well. It's pretty much the same thing that we'll have to do with Abdullah to make sure he doesn't bust loose. Duke has also been used in trick play situations, but none this year. Maybe that will change on Saturday night.
4. Wideout wise, Phillip Dorsett went off vs. Arkansas State, but there are also guys like Braxton Berrios, Clive Walford and Herb Walters. What’s the philosophy of Coley with his passing game?
Dorsett is a burner. He's used to get deep and take the top off the defense. He also has good success with curls and out routes after he's given the threat of going vertical. And, while he had the 3rd best yardage game by a Hurricane receiver EVER last week against Arkansas State, the best WR on our team is sophomore Stacy Coley. Coley has missed time with a shoulder injury, but will be a full-go against the Huskers.
As for the philosophy in the passing game, OC James Coley switches it based on the QB. With rocket armed Stephen Morris, there were a LOT of vertical routes. Tons of them. With Kaaya, however, there has been a more balanced passing attack. The middle of the field, long ignored by Morris, is one of Kaaya's favorite areas of the field to throw to. And, in recent weeks, Coley has called more vertical routes than he did at Louisville (when he clearly didn't trust Kaaya and called a scared gameplan) to show defenses a bit of a different look, and also ease the pressure on Duke Johnson and the run game.
5. Mark D’onofrio has the best Defense that Nebraska has seen this year so far, especially against the run. What’s been the most successful thing about this run D?
The success of our rejuvenated defense is an influx of talent at all 3 levels. Up front, the defensive line is playing better than they have in 4 years. Players like Anthony Chickillo, a 4 year starter, Ufomba Kamalu, Olsen Pierre, Courtel Jenkins, Tyriq McCord, and 5-star freshman Chad Thomas have done a great job up front.
Linebacker Denzel Perryman moved from OLB to MLB, and has raised his level of play. He's the heart and soul of the defense and he will surely play on Sundays. The other LBs have done a great job of progressing, no one moreso than Thurston Armbrister. Unrated as a recruit 4 years ago, he has been, arguably, the 2nd best defensive player through 3 games this season, behind Perryman. Jemaine Grace and Raphael Kirby have also taken steps forward in their performance.
6. Miami’s pass D is nothing to laugh at, either. Is there a fear about Tommy Armstrong & company going off on the secondary?
At this point, there is some uncertainty in the secondary. We thought this would be the strength of the defense, and to this point of the season, it's been the weakness. The safety trio of Deon Bush, Jamal Carter, and Dallas Crawford has played well for the most part. Bush had trouble tackling in space last week, and that will need to be addressed. Former walk-on Nantambu-Akil Fentress has also seen snaps at Safety, and has done about what was expected.
The Cornerback position, however, has quite simply been bad. With players like Artie Burns, Tracy Howard, LaDarius Gunter, Antonio Crawford, and Corn Elder returning, many, myself included, thought this would be the best unit on defense. Outside of a couple good plays from Burns, Crawford, and Elder, the CBs have been burned and bullied all season long. And, when they've had decent coverage, they haven't been able to recognize the ball when it's in the area, resulting in long gain, and interceptions/PBUs being nearly nonexistent. Yes, I know the sample size is small, but the performance has been consistent. I think that until they prove otherwise, regardless of the team we're facing, there is some fear about the passing attack getting the better of this group.
7. Al Golden and staff seem to be under a lot of heat the last couple of seasons. How hot is the seat on Golden, and what’s the expectation of this team?
Al Golden's seat is cool and comfortable, like your house on an October day in Lincoln. No, the W-L record the past few years isn't what we would have hoped for, but in the face of the NCAA investigation and with very substandard quality talent on the roster, There wasn't too much more to be done.
As far as expectations, that depends on who you ask and when you ask it. The "WE BACK!!!!" fans quickly turned to "FIRE THIS BUM IMMEDIATELY" after the loss to Louisville. Reality is somewhere in the middle. For the first time in years, I'm confident saying that the Hurricanes are the most talented team in the ACC Coastal Division. A reasonable expectation is to win the Coastal for the first time outright, and play in the ACC Championship Game. For that to happen, we're probably looking at an 8-9 win season. I think that's a fair for this year's team.
8. Do you expect the Miami fanbase to travel well to Lincoln for this game?
As I'm sure you know, the Miami fanbase is one of the smaller ones in America. Part of that is a function of the school being small (yes, Miami is a 9500 student private school), so the alumni base is smaller than most state schools by about a factor of 20 or more.
Despite all of that, I think that there will be a decent amount of fans travelling because this is Nebraska, and they know the history our teams have shared on the gridiron. Don't expect Lincoln to be overrun with Orange and Green, but you'll see a good number of Canes fans at the game.
9. Tell us about anyone that we should watch Saturday night that you haven’t mentioned yet.
At RB there are 3 players to know: Sophomore Gus Edwards and Freshmen Joseph Yearby and Trayone Gray. Edwards (6'2" 235lbs) and Yearby (5'9" 177lbs) are the primary backups to Duke Johnson, and will be utilized in different packages in the game. Gray, a HS QB, is a great athlete at 6'2" 223lbs, and he can MOVE. Don't think because he's big he's slow. He might only get 2 carries on Saturday, but if he gets a crease, he's gone.
Freshmen OLs Trevor Darling and Kc (note: that's the correct spelling, of his name. Think "Casey") McDermott may be rotated in on the right side of the line.
Freshman DT Courtel Jenkins has worked his way into a lot of playing time. He's been one of the better run defenders early in the season. Fellow Freshmen OLB Darrion Owens, DE Trent Harris, and DE Chad Thomas figure to see plenty of snaps on defense as well.
10. Prediction time. Tell us how you think the game is going to go on Saturday, and who wins?
I think this is going to be a very good game. Both teams have something to prove, and Saturday night's showdown is a great place to make that statement.
I think that turnovers tell the story, and it's not a good one for Canes fans.
Final Score: Nebraska 31 Miami 20